IFJ Condemns Brutal Jail Term for Sri Lankan Journalist Tissainayagam

The International

Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today condemned a

20-year jail term against senior Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam as

"brutal and inhumane" and accused Sri Lankan authorities of abusing anti-terror

laws to silence peaceful critics.

The High Court of Colombo today convicted

Tissainayagam, a prominent Tamil journalist, of "causing communal disharmony"

and "receiving money from Tamil Tiger rebels to pay for his website".

He was detained last year and later

charged with inciting violence in articles in his magazine, the North

Eastern Monthly, which has since closed. The landmark ruling makes

Tissainayagam one of a handful of journalists in the world to be convicted of

terrorism for the content of their journalism.

"This man has been victimised for no more

than holding the Government to account and giving voice to legitimate if

critical opinion," IFJ

General Secretary Aidan White said. "The sentence is

disproportionate, brutal and inhumane and is a chilling reminder of how

dangerous Sri Lanka

has become for independent journalists."

The IFJ is one of the international press

freedom and rights groups that have been campaigning for Tissainayagam's

release and for Sri Lanka

to tone down anti-terrorism legislation which is being used against government

critics.

On March 7, 2008, Tissainayagam

was detained without charge by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of

the Sri Lankan police. At the time he was the editor of an online newspaper, OutReach.sl.com. He was

held for more than five months until being charged with publishing and

distributing a magazine containing material alleged to have brought the

government into disrepute.

Earlier this year, United States President Barack

Obama named Tissainayagam as an

"emblematic example" of the "distressing reality" of courageous journalists who

face intimidation, censorship and

arbitrary arrest for their professional work. 



"The IFJ is anxious over the welfare of Tissainayagam

in prison," White said. "Sri Lankan authorities must ensure he is housed in a

safe environment and has access to medical assistance for his deteriorating

health."

The Colombo High Court found Tissainayagam guilty of

inciting ethnic and racial disharmony, of printing and publishing such

material, and of collecting money for the North Eastern Monthly from NGOs.

However, defence lawyers said there was no evidence of

attempts by him to stir up religious, racial or regional conflict. He was being

accused only because he is a Tamil, they said, and because of his criticism of

government and state security forces. The charges against Tissainayagam and two

colleagues, Jesiharan and Valarmathi, were laid under the PTA, a draconian and

"temporary law" that has remained on Sri Lanka's statute books since it

was introduced in 1979.

Since Tissainayagam's arrest, the IFJ has been

concerned about his treatment in detention, including how he was tortured to

make a confession. He was held without explanation for more than 150 days,

during which time he was reportedly tortured and denied medical treatment.

Court hearings were postponed arbitrarily and a human rights case lodged by his

lawyers was not properly investigated.

The IFJ says the prosecution and conviction

is symbolic of crumbling press freedom in Sri Lanka, where at least eight

journalists have been killed since 2007. Others have been beaten, harassed,

detained and threatened with death.  Many

journalists have been forced to leave the country for their safety.

"We will not give up our campaign for Tissainayagam," said White. "He should be released and this

terrible injustice undone immediately."

For media comment, contact:

Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary: +32 2 235 2210/+32 478 258 669 (Brussels)

IFJ Asia-Pacific office: +612 9333 0919 (Sydney)

The IFJ represents over 600,000

journalists in 123 countries worldwide